Software Developer Group To Senators: Access To Checkpoint Data Deters Drunk Driving, Doesn’t Encourage It

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Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company has tried to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.
Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company has tried to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.

Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company has tried to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.

A group representing thousands of independent software developers on Monday sent a letter objecting to four Democratic senators’ request last week to smartphone companies to remove applications that alert drivers to DUI checkpoints.

“While we share your concern for road safety, and that even one drunk driver on the road is too many, we urge you to proceed slowly and consider the implications to the mobile apps ecosystem when regulation and rule of law are abandoned and apps are pulled by government fiat,” writes Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology.

Zuck specifically mentions the senators’ concerns with Trapster and PhantomALERT, and that the senators consider the apps “to be in conflict with the public interest on the issue of traffic safety.”

Four senators, Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.  sent a letter to Apple, Research in Motion, and Google last week asking them to remove apps that alert drivers to a number of enforcement points on roadways, including DUI checkpoints.

But, ACT’s Zuck notes, the data that companies such as PhantomALERT and Trapster uses is already in the public domain, is often required to be published by law, and is also freely provided by individuals reporting in from the road as well.

Zuck goes on to note that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that heightened awareness of checkpoints acts as a deterrent to illegal behavior.

“Because of this, several of the apps in question have received particular commendation from the law enforcement community,” he writes.

ACT’s members include PhantomALERT.

As of Monday, the apps were still available through iTunes, but RIM had removed PhantomALERT.

“Drunk drivers will soon have one less tool to evade law enforcement and endanger our friends and families,” the senators said in joint statement last Wednesday.  “We appreciate RIM’s immediate reply and urge the other smartphone makers to quickly follow suit.”

The senators’ satisfaction should be short-lived, however. As with any web site or app, the data, information or activity can always show up elsewhere.

There’s a Twitter feed, for example, that alerts people to DUI checkpoints in California.